The Full Monta

Learning the art of irrational confidence from the Mavericks’ undersize shooting guard.

When the Dallas Mavericks signed Monta Ellis before last season, the news was greeted with a shrug. After the team failed to land Chris Paul or Dwight Howard or any other marquee free agent, Ellis was more like a participant’s ribbon. Hey, at least someone was actually willing to come to Dallas.

The Mavs were able to get Ellis, and at a reasonable rate, only because no one else seemed to want him. He was on the verge of wearing out his welcome in the NBA after taking too many terrible shots and missing a lot of them. His third-person assertion in a 2012 interview—“Monta Ellis have it all”—was stuck to his back like a “Kick Me” sign. 

In his second season with the Mavs, “Monta Ellis have it all” is no longer hyperbole or wishful thinking. He has replaced Ron Washington as the city’s endearing, grammatically challenged hero. Dirk Nowitzki, of course, will be the face of the franchise until they hang his No. 41 in the rafters. But the team increasingly belongs to Ellis, for better or worse. Usually better. He gives the team the kind of swagger it hasn’t had since Nick Van Exel’s brief tenure.

Ellis has become the heart and soul of the team in spite of (or maybe because of) the sort of irrational confidence normally only found on conservative Twitter. If you forced him to shoot with a bowling ball, started a fire in the lane, and made him wear an eye patch, Ellis would still want the last shot and would definitely believe he was going to make it. And he probably would.

The complete Ellis experience can be summarized by four games played over a week in December. On December 2, in a double-overtime win over the Chicago Bulls, Ellis had a single-minded 38 points. It took him 35 shots to get there, and he only picked up one assist in 45 minutes of playing time. But: Ellis sent the game to the first overtime period with three high-pressure free throws, and he won it in the second extra period with a deep three-point jumper he knew was good as soon as he landed.

The next night, Ellis came through again, in a thrilling win over one of his former teams, the Milwaukee Bucks. The last two of his 23 points came on a wild, running, twisting fadeaway 18-footer that fell softly through the net just after time expired. 

On December 9, Ellis tried—and failed—to shoot his way through a sore right elbow in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. He only made one of his shots, but he still believed in himself enough to take 11. (That it was only 11 was ample proof he was injured.)

The next night, Ellis led the Mavericks to a come-from-behind win against the upstart New Orleans Pelicans, scoring 13 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter. The last two came on a high-arcing floater over the outstretched arms of a Pelicans defender, the kind of HORSE shot many players wouldn’t take in the first 30 seconds of a game, much less the last 30. 

These days in Dallas, for Monta Ellis, that’s the way basketball go. 

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